The Fed Cup, the women's world cup of tennis, will be held for the first time in Tampa Bay. Saddlebrook hosts a semifinal between the United States and Czech Republic on April 22 and 23. Tickets go on sale today.
The four players who will represent each country will not be announced until April 12. Some likely players to be selected by U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi are world No. 9 Madison Keys, Australian Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe and 2016 mixed doubles Olympic gold medalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Rinaldi, 50, became the Fed Cup captain in December. She is a former player on the WTA Tour and resides in Orlando. Her son, Duke Stunkel, plays on the USF baseball team.
She talked to the Tampa Bay Times about playing in Tampa Bay, how the team gets picked and plans leading up to the semis.
This is the first time an event like this has been held in Tampa Bay. What can fans expect?
"Czech Republic has won this several times (five times in the past six years), and they always bring a strong team. They have a lot of top players. We'll also have a strong team. I believe in all of my American players.
"If anyone has not been to a Fed Cup tie I highly recommend it. It's really high on emotion and these players love representing their country. … The crowd is always fun. You see the face painting and the flags. You can really get behind your American players. It tends to be a little more rowdy than normal."
As a captain, do you need to change a player's mind-set from being an individual to a team player?
"These girls all know each other. Camaraderie is high with American players right now. They really support and push each other. It's been an exciting time for me to see that when I go to tournaments."
You don't pick your four players for a couple more weeks. What goes into finalizing the team?
"There's a lot we look at. We obviously want to put the best team forward. We check for player's availability and fortunately for U.S. tennis we have a lot of really good players. It's actually really tough to pick a team because you can only take four. The players are all very supportive of Fed Cup, so it's very difficult to pick.''
Is there a chance Venus or Serena Williams could play?
"We'll have to see. Venus and Serena have been amazing about being very supportive. They weren't able to play in Hawaii (in the quarterfinals), but they've always been supportive. The schedules are tough and they both just got to the finals of the Australian Open. We'd obviously love to have them on the team but their scheduling is very important to them. We never count them out. That's for sure."
When the team is finalized, how soon will they get to Saddlebrook?
"We'll be there a week ahead of the matches. We'll get a feel for the conditions. We'll be training and also taking in all the fun activities that Tampa has to offer. I'm hoping to get to one of the Tampa Bay (Rays) games. Just do some fun activities, team bonding stuff. We want to have some fun as well. It's a really special week."
And maybe catch a USF baseball game?
"They are out of town all week! … I was hoping my son could come to the matches and we could go to a game. But it didn't work out. My husband and I try to get over there, but with this winning streak they've had (USF is 23-3), I don't want to go over there and be the kiss of death."